The Zone of Proximal Development: Educating through Experiences that Challenge and Encourage

Teacher helping girl to learnWith constant new technology and standardized tests flooding our schools, it seems like there’s no longer time for kids to learn the valuable life skills they’ll need outside the classroom. To borrow a well-known phrase, “we must gather them up when they’re young so the next generation can go further.” That’s the aim of a method of teaching known as the “Zone of Proximal Development”.

Educators play a key role in building social, cognitive, creative, emotional, and physical skills in children. At Kids Harbor, your little ones learn not only letters, numbers, and colors, but also valuable life skills they can take from grade to grade.

For example, students entering Kindergarten need guidance to master life skills such as how to:

  • resolve differences with others
  • approach a problem
  • choose the appropriate response to different situations
  • master a task.

Resolving Differences

When it comes to problem-solving, children copy what they see. That means us, you, and any other adults in the child’s life. Giving children appropriate problem-solving tools empowers them and builds trust for authority figures. Allowing them to settle their own differences helps build confidence and negotiation skills they can use later in life.

Approaching a Problem

The "Zone of Proximal Development" is the ideal “zone” of learning between what a child knows how to do on his own and what a child doesn’t yet know.

Ever been in a room with a cranky toddler? I’m sure, you have! When things aren’t going their way, children throw their toys, shed tears, or some may sit there and pout.

Many educators use a concept referred to as the “Zone of Proximal Development” (or ZPD) to structure their teaching methods. This is the ideal “zone” of learning between what a child knows how to do on his own and what a child doesn’t yet know. In this target zone, educators help the child to learn new concepts using skills a child already has.

Imagine a child trying to build a tower of blocks but losing his patience because it keeps falling. The teacher might first talk to the child to have him explain what he’s trying to do. Next, the teacher helps by handing him one block at a time. By offering words of encouragement, the child is able to build a sturdy foundation for the tower to stand.

Choosing the Appropriate Behavior

Firefighter teaching class about fire drills

The Zone of Proximal Development is helpful with setting behavioral expectations in the classroom. Early learners are still beginning to understand the appropriate moods for different situations. During fire drills, we teach children to remain calm, stand in line, and exit the building in an orderly fashion. We do this to prepare them in case of an emergency.

The learning environment is no different. Children must learn that the same emotions don’t apply to all situations. If a classmate hurts themselves, it’s not appropriate to laugh but rather to show concern. Teachers must be mindful to communicate why it’s wrong to laugh at someone’s pain. They shouldn’t single out the child or children who laughed but instead use the event as an opportunity to teach compassion.

Mastering the Task

Psychologist Lev Vygotsky believed that using the Zone of Proximal Development with scaffolding delivered the best results. Scaffolding is a system in which the support provided matches the needs of the student. In this method, a teacher explains how to solve a problem in terms the student can understand. Then, he steps back to let the student try to solve it on their own. This popular teaching method is often referred to as peer-to-peer counseling.

This method, which has since made a comeback, puts the teacher in the driver’s seat. Revisiting the building block scenario, our teachers follow these simple steps:

  • spark the child’s interest
  • make the task simple
  • give simple instruction
  • provide ample encouragement.

Educators know that parental guidance is key. Yet, our goal is to be a tool in your arsenal, giving your children the skills they need to succeed in school and in life. We stand by the saying that if you give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day. If you teach a man to fish, he’ll eat for a lifetime.

Parent Resources

Here’s a helpful video which takes a deeper dive into Vygotsky’s “Zone of Proximal Development”.

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